The Great Catholic Cracker Caper
Apparently, there’s a huge wave (that’s media speak for at least two similar incidents) of people using Roman Catholic communion wafers for something other than their intended spiritual purpose. Earlier this month, it a University of Central Florida student:
Webster Cook says that, instead of eating a Eucharist wafer as he was expected to do during the Sacrament of Holy Communion, he smuggled the blessed piece of bread out of mass. Once blessed, the piece of bread is viewed by Catholics as the true Body of Christ.
Webster gave the wafer back, but the Catholic League, a national watchdog organization for Catholic rights claims that is not enough. “We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was,” said Susan Fani a spokesperson with the local Catholic League. “However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”
The firestorm set off PZ Meyers who, in a post titled “IT’S A FRACKIN’ CRACKER!” raged,
Holding a cracker hostage is now a hate crime? The murder of Matthew Shephard was a hate crime. The murder of James Byrd Jr. was a hate crime. This is a goddamned cracker. Can you possibly diminish the abuse of real human beings any further?
So, naturally, our intrepid biologist had a plan:
Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers? There’s no way I can personally get them — my local churches have stakes prepared for me, I’m sure — but if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart. If you can smuggle some out from under the armed guards and grim nuns hovering over your local communion ceremony, just write to me and I’ll send you my home address.
Shockingly, this spawned more outrage. For example, crunchy conservative Rod Dreher responded with a post titled “P.Z. Myers, Coward” and filed it under “anti-Christian bigotry.”
If P.Z. Myers had any guts, he would put out a call for someone to send him a Koran so he could blow his nose and wrap fish in it. After all, it’s nothing but frackin’ ink on paper, right? So what’s stopping you, Big Man? It’s easy to s— on what Catholics regard as sacred. But just try doing the same thing to what Muslims regard as sacred. Let’s see what you’re made of.
Dreher quickly notes that he’s merely being ironic and wants to see no harm come to any Koran.
Responding to these various criticisms, Myers retorts, “Your personal sense of the sacred in a piece of bread dough is absurd to me and imposes on me no sense of obligation.”
Doug Mataconis begs to differ: “Call it crazy if you want. Call it without scriptural foundation even. It’s what they believe, which makes their reaction somewhat understandable in my mind.” Further, Myers “did this knowing what the Eucharist means to Catholics with the obvious intention of offending them by doing so. While he may not have committed a crime, he did act like a thoughtless jerk whose actions really aren’t worthy of being defended.”
Megan McArdle is “flummoxed” by those who defend Myers under the “JUST A CRACKER” defense.
Would it be okay if I spraypainted obscenities on your mother’s grave because it’s just a piece of highly compressed igneous rock with some lines chiseled into it? How about if I photoshop your a photo of your now-grown child onto a piece of child porn, because after all, no one’s actually hurt by this–it’s just a piece of paper.
If you reduce symbols to their base physical constituents, then of course it sounds silly to get all excited about them. Nonetheless, you’d probably be pretty damn upset if someone dug up a relative’s grave and desecrated the corpse on the grounds that it’s just some rotting meat.
People do not live without symbols. The fact that you do not share someone else’s symbols does not give you the right to descrate them. Desecrating other people’s symbols is the act of a bully and a boor.
Previously, she called the stunt “really, really juvenile” and observed, “Desecrating a communion wafer because Bill Donohue is an officious jerk is like paining swastikas on the tombstones of a Jewish cemetery because Abe Foxman said something that pissed you off.”
I fully agree with Megan and Doug that Myers’ behavior here was boorish. Rather clearly, his aims were to offend the religious sensibilities of millions of people while looking all clever to his atheist friends. Those aren’t admirable aims. Further, someone who’s a guest at a place of worship ought to show some respect for his hosts. Doing otherwise is just bad manners.
At the same time, though, Myers is right: He’s under no obligation to pay obeisance to what he believes to be the silly rituals and beliefs of others. During the whole Danish Muslim cartoons thing, certainly, I didn’t think that Western cartoonists were wrong to draw cartoons of Mohammed, regardless of whether others — even a billion others — believed that doing so was blasphemy. Ditto when Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses and earned fatwah from the Ayatollah Khomeini. People have a right to express themselves and others have a right to be offended by that expression; violence, however, is not an acceptable response.
A communion wafer isn’t a headstone. The latter is, after all, private property. Webster Cook and, presumably, those called to action by Myers were given the wafers freely by people not expecting to have them returned in usable condition. Taking one under such conditions isn’t a crime, let alone a “hate crime.”
Perhaps a better example for non-religious folks is the burning of the American flag in protest, an act that so enrages millions that laws have been passed to prohibit it and, once the Supreme Court ruled it to be protected speech, has even sparked calls for amending the Constitution to ban it. While it’s perfectly legal to do burn the flag — and it’s a very powerful way of making a point — it’s also something that will likely earn you widespread scorn.
If people want to think Myers and Cook are horrible people, they’re free to do so. That’s the cost of taking controversial stands. Death threats and similar responses, however, are not.
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